Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Free Nicoll: Bond Fundraiser Begins for Transgender Woman in All-Male Immigration Detention Center

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2015 at 11:30 AM

A fundraiser for Nicoll Hernández-Polanco—a Guatemalan transgender woman who's been in an all-male immigration detention center in Florence for about six months—kick started earlier this month to have some cash handy in case a judge sets a price to Nicoll's freedom in upcoming days.

Nicoll's bond hearing is now scheduled for April 22, according to Mariposas Sin Fronteras—a Tucson LGBT/immigrants rights advocacy group. Her attorneys, Heather Hamel and Vidula Patki, say her asylum hearing might take place that same day, but they are waiting for confirmation on everything that'll be happening this and next week related to Nicoll's case.

Advocates have been fighting for Nicoll's release, or least her transfer to an all-female detention facility, since the end of last year but Immigration Customs Enforcement has repeatedly refused. Nicoll has two previous deportations, which is the reason she had to wait six months to get a bond hearing.

Hamel and Patki hoped ICE would grant her humanitarian parole (since Nicoll is an asylum seeker), especially after Nicoll reported she had been sexually abused by another detainee. While in detention, the abuse has been constant—physical and emotional from both other detainees and detention center guards. The first month she was in detention, Nicoll was patted down at least six times a day by the male guards and she has had to shower with the other detainees. 
When I visited her a few months ago, I heard a guard refer to Nicoll as "this dude" in a very hostile manner while I waited for her in the visiting room. She'd go from happy and talkative to very upset at the sight of a group of guards, and she'd tell me to speak quietly when they were around because she was frightened by them.

One of the times she defended herself from the abuse, she was thrown into solitary, allegedly for her "safety."

Since being a child, growing up in one of the poorest and most dangerous slums of Guatemala City, Nicoll has been a victim of all types of abuse. She's been practically on her own since her early teens and has no relationship with any of her family members.

At the age of 17, the now 24-year-old tried crossing into the U.S. twice but was apprehended and deported both times. In October 2014, after some time living in Mexico (where she was kidnapped and sexually abused), she reached the Sonora-Arizona border and pleaded for asylum.

I was touched by something one of Nicoll's attorneys, Heather Hamel, told me during our interview for a story I wrote on Nicoll in March:
"The most tragic aspect of this is, asylum law is supposed to be a way to expand protection to vulnerable individuals who would be otherwise persecuted in their home countries because of who they are, and that is the way that it is supposed to function," says Heather Hamel, a Phoenix-based corporate law attorney, who, alongside colleague Vidula Patki, has taken on Hernández-Polanco's case pro-bono. "As we have dug into this case, and became more familiar with the treatment of LGBT individuals in detention...this is a group of people who are fleeing discrimination and violence in their home countries, and they come to the U.S. seeking a safe haven, and instead of extending protection, we cart them off and put them in detention facilities where they are re-exposed to violence and discrimination, and that is tragic."
Nicoll cannot be sent back to Guatemala. Being from there myself, I have witnessed and learned about the violence against transgender women like Nicoll.

She is one among too many people in similar circumstances. I don't understand why asylum seekers from south of the border are thrown into more suffering while they wait for their future to sort out. 

The fundraiser for Nicoll set a goal of $10,000—Mariposas Sin Fronteras expects her bond (if granted) will be that high. The page is and they have about $1,200 already.

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